Friday, August 27, 2010

let's go to the ex food building!

1980 Food Building Report at the Canadian National Exhibition

Every year before Dad (and later Amy and I) had to return to the classroom, we’d visit my grandparents in Leaside and spent one day of the trip at the Ex. While the rides were fun, the Food Building and its array of cheap/free delights from local and major vendors was often the highlight. The odds are good I was running around (or tethered to my parents with a leash around my wrist so that I wouldn’t disappear into the crowd) the Food Building in 1980 when Canadian Grocer magazine prepared a special report/advertising section about the fair.

Even in 1980, it seems patrons were dismay by the dwindling amount of freebies exhibitors handed out each year. In an effort to bring back the “good ol’ days,” the CNE Food Products Association gave away over 10,000 food and food-related prizes on Food Products Day (August 20). Coupons were handed out that made patrons eligible to win items ranging from candy bars to Cuisinart food processors. Pipers were used to draw people to the coupon booths.

The special section provided profiles of what several key vendors offered the public that year, accompanied by colour photos. Here are the highlights (with apologies for the grainy quality of the shots).

1980 CNE Food Building: A&P
A&P Food Stores

Besides their long-running cooking demonstrations at the Kitchen Theatre in the Better Living Centre, A&P operated a booth in the food building in 1980:

This new booth served A&P’s own Bokar Coffee for 25 cents a cup, which included cake. They also offered a new deluxe 100 mL tub of ice cream for 25 cents. It was offered in four flavours...Another CNE special was Bokar Coffee at $3.50 or 8 O’Clock at $3.00 for a one pound bag. There was also a pamphlet available at the booth with an entry form for $200 worth of groceries...The booth was managed by Loretta Ring, who also manages the two cafeterias at A&P’s head office. Loretta’s staff of 14 were colourfully dressed in red jackets and caps.
Perhaps those outfits were then donated to nearby stores, as they resemble those seen in Amherstburg’s A&P for years. As my sister notes, those working the booth are smiling awkwardly.

1980 CNE Food Building: Blue Diamond
Blue Diamond
A new participant this year that created a great deal of attention was the eye-catching Blue Diamond booth. The clean, fresh appearance of the exhibit provided an ideal setting for Canada’s fastest growing snack food sensation…It is only recently that this delicious nut meat has come into its own as a unique snack item…Consumers view the product as a great tasting and nutritious alternative to traditional snack items.

1980 CNE Food Building: Maple Leaf Meats
Canada Packers Inc. (Maple Leaf Meats)

New products offered by the meat giant were Superfranks (“a spicier, plumper and meatier frank”) and Bavarian Sausage (“an old country style, pure pork sausage”), both of which were served up on “tasty hot rolls.” The company sponsored the distribution of a million-and-a-half free passes to primary school students across the province, which also allowed the bearers to have a free nine ounce soft drink if they bought a “delicious” Superfrank at the booth.

(Sorry for all the quotation marks…the hyperbole in the original article grew tiresome after awhile)

1980 CNE Food Building: Crush
Crush Beverages Ltd.
As in previous years, the Crush booth was one of the busiest at the CNE Food Building. Offered at the booth was the famous Orange Crush—the “orangiest” drink around—Hires Root Beer and Wilson’s Ginger Ale at excellent prices…49 cents for the 32 ounce container and 19 cents for the nine ounce cup. Business was brisk…The Orange Crush summer consumer promotion this year involved the imaginative use of Frisbees—orange in colour and even having the fragrance of oranges. The Crush booth followed through with its featured best buy which was a special pack consisting of a Crush Frisbee, a 32 ounce drink of Orange Crush or Hires, and a plastic shopping bag, all for a low CNE price of $1.29.
Was ginger ale too premium a product or not deemed popular enough to go into the special pack?

1980 CNE Food Building: Dominion
Dominion
Among Dominion’s booths in the Food Building were two which were offering hot dogs, beans, fresh tossed salad and Ben’s smoked meat. Hot dogs offered included the regular snack hot dog and the Quarter Pounder Blue Jay frank. The Hip-O-Beef booth featured beef on a bun...At Dominion’s Kitchen Theatre, home economists gave cooking tips and demonstrations. Dominion also introduced a Kitchen Talk Line, with a home economist available to answer any questions. The service will be an ongoing one which consumers may use at any time to acquire information by calling 416-652-2454 from 8:45 to 4:30, Monday through Friday.
“Anytime” seems a generous description given the actual hours of the hotline. Of the items served by Dominion, “Hip-O-Beef” seems to have faded from the popularity it enjoyed as a dish served up at public events during the 1970s. While flipping through back issues of the Ontarion at the University of Guelph from that decade, stories about the community barbecue touted the beef hip as one of the most beloved offerings.

1980 CNE Food Building: Honeydew
Honeydew
As it has for the past 52 years, Honeydew Foods was at the CNE again, Honeydew being the most popular orange drink at the exhibition. The familiar order—“Give me a hot dog and a Honeydew”—was supplemented with “Give me a Honeydew and a bacon on a bun.”
Cans of frozen Honeydew concentrate were a childhood staple. The brand has faded in recent years (I last recall seeing it on a rare trip to Food Basics), but a website still exists.

1980 CNE Food Building: Jolly Miller
Jolly Miller

The article notes that over 100,000 cups of Jolly Miller powdered drinks were sold that year. For a dime, thirsty patrons could choose from grape, ice tea, orange, pink lemonade, and tangerine flavours. I remember the smiling miller logo, but unlike Honeydew, I don’t recall ever drinking any at home.

1980 CNE Food Building: Lifesavers
Life Savers
Apart from sampling the full range of Life Savers Candy rolls, strong emphasis was placed on new flavours of Bubble Yum Bubble Gum, Care Free Sugarless gum and on the firm’s newest product, Breath Savers Sugarless Mints. At Life Savers, the CNE is considered to be an important facet in the marketing mix and the company looks forward to many years of continued participation.

1980 CNE Food Building: Plumrose
Plumrose
Plumrose is known worldwide for its high quality products and is best known in Canada for the retail sales of such items as Cocktail Sausage, Picnic, Cheese, Ham and Pate, imported from Denmark, and Boston Corned Beef products, imported from Plumrose Australia , and distributed and sold across Canada.
It was also noted that Plumrose had just acquired a processing plant in West Hill and that they were replacing “the well known Danish Cheese Association booth” in the Food Building. No mention is made of whether their product line also included those tins of Danish butter cookies that pop up at Christmas every year.

1980 CNE Food Building: J.M. Schneider
J.M. Schneider Meats

For its 54th straight year at the Ex, Schneider’s served up a menu of Bunfiller Hot Dogs (“a meal in itself”), quarter pound burgers, Country Fries and pecan tarts.

Outfitted in old fashioned dress, the efficient staff of 40 students prepared and served the food products throughout the Ex. The butcher shop atmosphere was highlighted with a display of old-time equipment and products hanging on the walls. A cooler in the butcher shop showed off several of the company’s present-day variety of processed meat products.

1980 CNE Food Building: Shopsy's
Shopsy’s Foods Ltd.

The new Deli-Fresh hot dog was the main draw for the long-time Ex fave, along with smoked meat sandwiches.

The three Shopsy’s booths inside the CNE Food Building employ about 45 people during the Exhibition. They were recently redesigned to project the high quality deli image the company is famous for. A fourth Shopsy’s booth, freestanding outside the Food Building, served the famous Shopsy’s Corned Beef deli sandwich.
As a kid, I preferred Shopsy’s franks over Schneider’s. They had more flavour and were a shade redder than most other hot dogs on the market at the time. The packaging was more colourful than the transparent pack Schneider’s used, where the only distractions from the doggies were the Dutch girl and product name. My tastebuds deemed Schneider’s Dutch Treet the bottom of that company’s barrel, with a vampire-clearing aftertaste that didn’t sit well. But even mediocre Schneider’s were preferable to a brand that rarely crossed our kitchen table, Maple Leaf. Naturally, the least wound up the winner in the long run, as Maple Leaf currently produces Schneider’s and Shopsy’s products.

1980 CNE Food Building: Tetley Tea
Tetley Tea
The company began its involvement in the Food Building in 1974 and in 1979 introduced four new exciting varieties of gourmet teas. This gave a new dimension to tea drinking. These four new varieties—Earl Grey, Lemon, Ceylon Breakfast and Darjeeling—are popular throughout many countries of the world.
Compared to orange pekoe, these varieties would have been exotic at the time.

***

When I revisited the CNE as an adult, the Food Building was the droopiest disappointment. As other trade shows had taken away its function of allowing exhibitors to showcase new products to the public, the place now resembled a grey mediocre food court. Sure there were local mom-and-pop operations and a wider array of international cuisines to pick from, but it lacked the razzle dazzle of the trappings the exhibitors added to their booths to lure in the curious. It was interesting to see spots taken up by chains long assumed dead (I hadn’t seen an H. Salt Fish and Chips since childhood). Even if the setup of the building was similar to that in 1980, who’s to say a return visit wouldn’t have been disappointing due to the failure to line up 100% with inexact childhood memories or cynicism toward how food companies actually operate?

All images taken from the September 1980 issue of Canadian Grocer. - JB

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